Where to Find Yield in 2022

It is daunting to expect a big profit, or even any profit, over the next several months from standard bonds or bond funds. Breaking even would be acceptable while interest rates and inflation churn. But as I consider 2022, I aver that the economy is marking time until an inevitable return to its pre-pandemic formula of 2% growth, 2% inflation and 2% long-term interest rates, which may land at 2.5% post-COVID. That’s a beneficial backdrop for plenty of income-paying investments, and now is a good time to accumulate income investments that zig when growth and inflation also zig.

I looked up 2021 returns (through November 5) for 15 of my most-trusted funds and trusts. The three most successful were Pimco Corporate & Income Strategy (symbol PCN), BNY Mellon Municipal Bond Infrastructure (DMB) and Nuveen Preferred and Income Term (JPI), with respective total returns of 15.3%, 10.3% and 9.8%. I continue to endorse all three. I am sold on the appeal of leveraged closed-end debt funds and also see no end to the popularity of junk bonds and floating-rate bank loan funds. All of them benefit from economic vigor; the tendency for debt-ratings upgrades; the unusually low incidence of bond defaults and loan delinquencies; and the phenomenal amount of cash out there seeking any reasonable yield. If you value the Treasury’s full faith and credit, in­flation-linked Series I savings bonds are paying 7.12% until May because of the spike in the consumer price index. The yield will then reset, but the bonds will remain attractive. In addition, explore the following asset classes for 2022, using ETFs or closed-ends if you prefer them to individual securities:

Floating-rate bank loan funds. Fidelity Floating Rate High Income (FFRHX) is the best-known; Invesco Senior Loan (BKLN) is a cromulent ETF and one of the Kiplinger ETF 20, the list of our favorite exchange-traded funds. Keep these well fed if you already own them.

High-yield bonds. Vanguard’s offerings have the low-expense-ratio edge, but spreading money among a few managers makes sense. I prefer active management to indexing. New junk-bond yields have contracted to 4%, but capital gains can pad this.

Preferred stocks. New offerings number about one a week and offer yields of about 5%. Or try closed-end funds such as Flaherty & Crumrine Preferred Income Fund (PFD) and pounce when the premiums to net asset value tighten. Six-month-old Fidelity Preferred Securities & Income ETF (FPFD) shows great promise.

Short-term, high-rate lenders. Ready Capital (RC, $16) finances small commercial loans and mortgages; the stock yields north of 10%. RiverNorth Specialty Finance (RSF, $20) invests in an array of debt, including small-business loans. It is an interval fund; you buy it as you would a regular mutual fund but can only sell quarterly. The design lets managers hold rare or unusual high-income investments. Distributions run about 8%, cushioning share-price gyrations.

Taxable muni­cipals. These are my pick for cautious savers. These high-coupon munis sagged early in 2021 but are reviving of late. Invesco Taxable Municipal Bond ETF (BAB) distributes close to 3%, and all its bonds are rated A or better.

Source: kiplinger.com

12 Steps to Filling out the FAFSA Form 2021-2022

For many people, one of the first steps to applying for college is filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA®. This form helps the government determine your eligibility for federal student aid, including subsidized and unsubsidized student loans, as well as grants and work-study opportunities.

Completing The 2021-2022 FAFSA Application

The FAFSA form 2021 may look a bit different if you’ve filled out the form in the past. That’s because of the FAFSA® Simplification Act, which was passed in December 2020 and designed to make the FAFSA more accessible for lower-income students and families. While most of these changes won’t go into effect for the upcoming FAFSA cycle, we’ll point in this article a few changes to FAFSA you will see this year.

Recommended: FAFSA 101: How to Complete the FAFSA

12 Steps to Fill Out the FAFSA

FAFSA opens Oct. 1, 2020, and closes June 30, 2022 for the 2021/2022 academic year. However, FAFSA deadlines may vary depending on the states and schools you’re applying to, so you may want to check with each school to confirm their FAFSA deadline. If you’re ready to fill out FAFSA, we’ve outlined steps required in the process.

Not ready to fill out the FAFSA? You can fill out an abridged Federal Student Aid Estimator to give you an idea of what filling out the actual FAFSA will be like and to estimate your expected student aid package.

1. Required Documents Ready

Before even loading the online FAFSA form, it may be useful to have all your required documents in order to make the application process even easier. The things you’ll need may include:

•   Social security or alien registration ID

•   Drivers license or state ID

•   Federal income tax returns, W-2s and other financial documents for both yourself and your parent(s) if you’re a dependent (more on that later)

•   Bank statements

•   Untaxed income

•   Title IV Institution Codes for schools you’re applying to (again, more on that later)

•   Download app, if you plan on applying on mobile (you can also apply on desktop)

Dependent students will also need to provide similar information for their parents.

2. FSA IDs

There’s one more thing you’ll need in order to apply for FAFSA, and that’s a federal student aid ID, or FSA ID . This is simply the username or password you’ll use to log into FAFSA. Note that if you need to enter parental financial information, whoever is providing that financial information will also need to create an FSA ID .

3. Basic Information

Now that you have a FSA ID, you’re ready to log in and get started. The first few steps of FAFSA will be filling out basic information. The site or app will first ask you if you are a student, parent, or preparer helping a student fill out the FAFSA. Select which one applies to you. You should then be prompted to provide the following:

•   Your full name

•   Date of birth

•   Social security number

4. Starting the Application

Once you fill in this information, you will be asked to accept or decline the disclaimer, which details how the site will use and monitor your data. You should then be prompted to either start a FAFSA for 2021-2022 or 2020-2021. If you’re filing FAFSA for the upcoming year and are not currently enrolled in college, you should choose “Start 2021-2022 FAFSA.”

You’ll also be asked to create a save key, which is simply a four-digit code you’ll use to save your application. If you don’t finish FAFSA in one sitting, then you’ll be asked to enter your save key to continue filling it out at a later date.

5. Section 1: Student Information

Next, you’ll need to enter some information about yourself, including (but not limited to):

•   Social security number

•   Full name

•   Date of birth

•   Email address

•   Phone number

•   Home address

•   State of residence

•   Citizenship status

•   High school completion status

•   College degree level

•   If you’d like to be considered for work-study

6. Section 2: College Search Section

To send your FAFSA information to schools you’re applying to, you’ll need to find the federal school code for each school you want your information sent to. Doing so allows colleges to receive your FAFSA information and use it to provide you a financial aid package. You can find this code either on the school’s website or by searching for it on the FAFSA form itself.

7. Section 3: Dependency Status

You can either apply to FAFSA as a dependent of your parents or as an independent. If you’re a first-time college student and will graduate from high school in 2022 and/or are under 24 years old, you’ll most likely need to file as a dependent, meaning you’ll need your parents’ financial information to apply.

Section 3 of the FAFSA will help you determine if you’re an independent or dependent student. You’ll need to provide some more information about yourself, such as your marital status, if you have children or other dependents, and if you’re at risk or are currently experiencing homelessness.

Once you’ve filled out this information, FAFSA should display a message that determines whether or not you’re considered a dependent and therefore need parental financial information to determine expected family contribution (which will soon be replaced with the student aid index).

(Note that the rest of these steps assume you’re filing as a dependent. While the process of filing as an independent will be similar, you won’t be asked to provide information about your parents.)

8. Section 4: Parental Information

If you need parental information for FAFSA, you’ll include that in this section. Information you’ll need includes (but is not limited to):

•   Parental marital status

•   Date of parent’s marriage

•   Parent social security number

•   Parent name

•   Parent date of birth

•   Parent email address

•   Parent’s spousal information for all of the above

•   Household size

9. Section 5: Parent Financials

Next, you’ll need to provide some financial information about your parents. You’ll be asked for information such as (but not limited to):

•   Last year taxes were filed

•   Tax return type

•   Filing status

•   IRS Data Retrieval Tool (otherwise, need to fill in tax information manually)

•   Combat pay

•   Grant and scholarship aid

•   Education credits

•   Untaxed IRA distributions

•   IRA deductions and payments

•   Tax exempt interest income

•   Child support payments

•   Need-based employment programs

•   Net worth

10. Section 6: Student financials

Now it’s time to provide some financial information about yourself. You’ll be asked for information such as (but not limited to):

•   Last year taxes were filed

•   Tax return type

•   Filing status

•   IRS Data Retrieval Tool (otherwise, need to fill in tax information manually)

•   Combat pay

•   Grant and scholarship aid

•   Education credits

•   Untaxed IRA distributions

•   IRA deductions and payments

•   Tax exempt interest income

•   Child support payments

•   Need-based employment programs

•   Net worth

11. Check for errors

Once you’ve reached the end of the application, you should receive a FAFSA summary. Before hitting submit, you may want to ensure that all the information you included is accurate. Reviewing this information closely may help avoid filing a FAFSA correction later.

12. Agreement of Terms

The FAFSA requires you to accept or reject its agreement of terms. If your parent(s) also provided information because you filed as a dependent, they will also need to accept these terms in order for you to submit the application. Both you and your parent(s) will e-sign using your FSA ID. Once you’ve accepted the terms, your FAFSA will be complete.

Sample FAFSA Form for 2021/2022

Do you need some extra help? FAFSA’s Financial Aid Tool Kit is rich with resources and information. Some documents include step-by-step instructions on how to complete the FAFSA on the website and mobile app, lists of tips for filling out the FAFSA, question-and-answer documents, and more. You can also view a sample FAFSA form or a presentation on how to fill out FAFSA using the mobile app.

This student aid report may also be useful if you need to see another FAFSA sample form.

Recommended: How much FAFSA Money Can I Expect?

What’s Different About the 2021/2022 FAFSA

As previously discussed, the FAFSA Simplification Act passed last December resulted in a few changes to FAFSA. However, most of these changes won’t go into effect for the 2021-2022 school year. For FAFSA 2021-2022, major changes include the following:

•   Automatic-Zero EFC: FAFSA will give all applicants with an income of $27,000 or less an EFC of zero, meaning FAFSA does not expect families to help pay for the applicant’s college. This amount increased $1,000 from last year, which set the cut-off at $26,000, so more students should be able to receive a EFC of zero.

•   Schedule 1 Questions: When populating tax information from the IRS Data Retrieval Tool, the tool will automatically answer whether or not the applicant filed for a Schedule 1.

Additional changes are already scheduled for the 2022/2023 FAFSA form, such as drug convictions no longer negatively affecting one’s ability to get financial aid. Additionally, registration status for Selective Service for eligible males will also no longer be considered for financial aid. You can review the latest changes to the FAFSA on the official FAFSA website.

A Few Extra Tips

Completing the FAFSA can be an overwhelming process. For those filing for the first time, you may want to check out this 2021-2022 FAFSA guide and some FAFSA tips to make the process even easier. If you need some more help on how to fill out FAFSA 2021/2022, some tips from StudentAid.Gov include:

1.    Completing the form: It can be tempting to skip the FAFSA altogether, especially if you’re from a middle- or upper-class family and you believe you won’t be eligible for aid. However, falling for this assumption could mean leaving aid on the table.

2.    Paying attention to deadlines: As stated earlier, FAFSA 2021/2022 opens Oct. 1 and closes June 30, 2022. However, the schools you’re applying to may require you to fill out the FAFSA before June 30, so it’s best to ask each school’s financial aid office about what their FAFSA deadlines are to avoid losing out on aid.

3.    Using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool: This tool auto-fills your latest tax information from the IRS database. When you fill out FAFSA, you’ll have the option to either fill out your tax data manually or use the tool. Using the tool could help you avoid making costly mistakes while also saving you time.

4.    Filling out every section: Not sure how to fill out a section? FAFSA offers helpful tips throughout each section of the FAFSA form to make filling out the FAFSA easier. Additionally, not filling out a section of FAFSA could result in your form not being submitted or you receiving less financial aid.

5.    Double-checking the form: Before you submit, you may want to go back and double-check your answers to make sure everything is filled out and is accurate.

Recommended: Navigating Your Financial Aid Package

The Takeaway

Filling out the FAFSA is a great first step to pay for your dream school. This is one of the best ways of getting scholarships and grants you won’t have to pay back or government-backed loans to help you pay for college-related costs. By learning how to properly fill out the FAFSA (and then actually doing so!), you can increase your odds of getting a bigger financial aid package.

However, if your financial aid package doesn’t cover all your college expenses, you may want to consider private student loans. It’s important to note that private student loans don’t offer the same protections as federal student loans, like income-driven repayment plans or deferment options. For this reason, private student loans are generally considered only after other sources of funding have been considered.

SoFi’s Private Student Loans are available for undergraduate and graduate students, as well as parents. In just a few minutes, you can apply online for student loans and be well on your way to financing your education.

Find out more about SoFi’s Private Student Loan options.

Header photo credit: iStock/Vladimir Sukhachev

FAFSA photos credit: FAFSA’s Financial Aid Tool Kit


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SoFi Private Student Loans
Please borrow responsibly. SoFi Private Student Loans are not a substitute for federal loans, grants, and work-study programs. You should exhaust all your federal student aid options before you consider any private loans, including ours. Read our FAQs.
SoFi Private Student Loans are subject to program terms and restrictions, and applicants must meet SoFi’s eligibility and underwriting requirements. See SoFi.com/eligibility for more information. To view payment examples, click here. SoFi reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. This information is subject to change.

External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.
Third Party Brand Mentions: No brands or products mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.
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Source: sofi.com

Try the 4-Gift Rule to Keep Your Holiday Spending in Check

This strategy sets clear boundaries on what types of gifts to get and caps how much you buy. It’s a great family tradition to adopt if you want to reduce the financial stress of the holiday season.
These tips for using the four-gift rule will help you stay within your holiday budget and avoid post-Christmas shopping regrets.
This gift category is a way to sneak in learning opportunities for your kids, but you can make it fun too. Even if your children aren’t major bookworms, they might love a book based on their favorite TV show or a new movie that’s coming out. Graphic novels and comics count as books too!
But really though — socks and underwear. Do it.

What Is the Four-Gift Rule?

Or go for something a little more exciting, like headphones, hats or headbands.
Just make sure to set a spending limit for this gift — whatever works best for your budget.

  • Something they want
  • Something they need
  • Something to wear
  • Something to read

If you’ve got room in your budget, don’t forget about jolly old St. Nick! You can opt for one Santa gift for the whole family — like a game — or get each kid one present from Santa that you know they’ll love. Look for small trinkets at the dollar store or somewhere similar to fill up the kids’ stockings.
Fortunately, the solution to keeping the kids happy without going overboard with your spending comes down to an easy gift-giving strategy called the four-gift rule.

See, there’s more to this category than just socks and underwear.

Something They Want

This one is quite easy if you save it for last and see what’s left in your budget. It can be as simple as a paperback, or as grand as an e-reader.
You buy one gift per category — that’s it.
Those of us who have fond memories of opening stacks of presents under the tree on Christmas morning want to re-create that same magical feeling for our kids when the holidays roll around.

Something They Need

You can get creative with this category and find something that you and your kids both agree they need.
What we don’t need, of course, is for our eyes to grow wide when checking our credit card statements and our hearts to sink with disappointment when realizing it’ll take months to pay down all the holiday debt.
Using coupons and shopping sales can really help you score a gift from this category without spending hundreds of dollars.

Something to Wear

Your kids may not have included any clothing items on their wish lists, so think hard about what would be exciting for them to get — like a shirt with their favorite cartoon character on it or a personalized piece of jewelry.
This is a no-brainer if your kids play sports and their gear is getting a little worn. Maybe your children are shoe fanatics and would really appreciate a new pair. Or perhaps your little one loves playing dress-up and could use a nice jewelry box to store their many accessories.
If you were under your budget on your shiny “want” gift, maybe you could package up an entire outfit.
Trim your holiday spending budget by finding free books for your kiddos. This article shares 14 ways to get free kids books.

Something to Read

This is where you can make kids’ wishes come true. Go ahead and get the gift they circled in that catalog or saw on a TV commercial. It will be your shiny present with a bow on top, so make it count. Meghan McAtasney is a freelance writer. Nicole Dow is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder.
Ready to stop worrying about money?

Bonus: One Gift From Santa

By following the four-gift rule and sticking to one present from Santa, the meaning of giving goes a little further instead of letting Santa get all the credit.
The four-gift rule is super simple. It even rhymes, so it’s easy to remember.
Get the Penny Hoarder Daily
Without being overwhelmed with a plethora of presents, the kids will be able to really focus their attention on the gifts they receive. The magic of Christmas will remain intact — without the extra financial stress. <!–

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ESG Is Not ‘Ethical Investing.’ And That’s OK.

As enthusiasm about ESG investing has been on the rise, so too has controversy. ESG is an acronym that refers to the environmental, social and governance considerations relating to investing. It’s an approach that, by some estimates, may become integrated into half of all U.S. managed accounts by 2025.

Why should investors and companies care about ESG? The argument is that in the long run, those risks will impact the business — companies that consider these non-financial, yet material, metrics in their strategy are best poised to mitigate risk and succeed. The increasing frequency of extreme weather events, rising prices for oil and gas, and spiraling discontent among workers provide early evidence of how environmental and social concerns will impact investors.

Where ESG Draws Criticism

Criticism about ESG generally falls into two broad categories.  One view holds that ESG is systemic “greenwashing.” Companies publish glossy reports about their social and environmental engagement and hope that investors take interest or include them in sustainability indices. This view maintains that companies are rewarded for publishing a report that reveals some good practices, while ignoring the bad ones, and thus get a bump up in their third-party ESG ratings.

The second category of criticism is that if environmental and social challenges in business are so fundamental to long-term good management, and thus good financial performance, then the market will eventually price it into corporate valuations. This view believes that markets are efficient; it then follows that better social and environmental outcomes will prevail, if we keep the eye on the ball, which is financial performance.

A consistent assumption among the critics, however, is that ESG is designed to enable better ethical and social outcomes.  But that’s not necessarily the case — ESG is not the same as ethical, socially responsible or impact investing. And that’s OK, because we need all these strategies.

Impact investors seek measurable impacts on people, planet and profits with respect to how they allocate their money. A socially responsible or ethical investment strategy might seek to exclude from their funds companies that are deemed unethical. But an ESG strategy remains invested in the company, even if there are activities not aligned with their values, and will push for change.

For example, ESG investors might use their investment stewardship and proxy voting team to engage with the companies’ boards and CEOs about their plans to address climate risk, or even vote against the re-election of certain board members. The recent proxy battle victory by activist investor Engine No.1 at Exxon Mobil demonstrates this point (see my analysis here).

The Impact ESG Has on the Economy and Companies

Advocates for ESG investing indicate that their interest in climate and social factors stems from their view that poor management of those risks will impact financial portfolios and long-term business performance. The analytical focal point is impact on the economy and on the financial performance of companies, not the other way around.

Regulators also point to the risks that ESG considerations pose to the financial portfolios.  The Department of Labor, for instance, recently proposed rules that, if passed, would permit fiduciary investment managers to take ESG risks into consideration, namely because they “may have a direct relationship to the economic value of the plan’s investment.”  If there are any positive effects on people and the planet, it’s considered a “collateral benefit.”

The NY Department of Financial Services also provided guidance about climate change risks to the financial firms under its jurisdiction.  They indicated that financial firms, particularly insurance companies, should integrate into their governance and risk-management processes how various climate change scenarios are likely to impact their business

The frame of analysis, thus, is the impact on business and financial systems. The success of ESG depends on further expanding, measuring and defining the business case for ethics. This is one reason why making “the business case” for social challenges has become a feature of academic research and the business press (as I argue here, sometimes it goes too far).

Maintaining Principles Is a Key to Success

A principled ESG fund will therefore present investments that are at the intersection of financial performance and social or environmental good, so that investors can align their values with those opportunities. As Tariq Fancy describes in The Secret Diary of a Sustainable Investor, think of a Venn diagram where purpose and profit seek to intersect — that intersection constitutes the ESG integration approach for social and environmental good. 

For ESG to continue to grow and succeed, the intersection in that Venn diagram needs to expand. Financial firms, companies, rating agencies and other intermediaries need to collaborate to improve the consistency of data, the accuracy of marketing and continued standardizations in disclosures. 

To be sure, there is greenwashing in ESG, and some companies take advantage of sustainability reports by, for example, highlighting only marginal efforts around stakeholder engagement without any change in their core operations.  Governments and regulators should help define the space and provide oversight with respect to these practices.

We all need to speak, write and report more precisely around this topic. Conflating ESG, sustainability, impact and ethical investing can confuse the aims of adherents to each approach.  The longevity of the movement depends on it.

Executive Director, American College Center for Ethics in Financial Services

Azish Filabi, JD, is Executive Director of the American College Center for Ethics in Financial Services and an Associate Professor of Ethics at the American College of Financial Services. She joined The College in 2020. Before that, Filabi worked at BlackRock as Vice President for Investment Stewardship, where she was involved with topics such as executive compensation, board quality, diversity and composition, and disclosure of environmental and social risks.

Source: kiplinger.com

10 Tips to Help You Stay Cozy in Your Apartment this Winter

Enjoy cozy vibes in your apartment all winter long with these 10 tips.

With temperatures dropping quickly and the shortest days of the year approaching fast, many apartment renters are looking for ways to stay cozy and ride out the long winter in complete comfort.

Here are 10 simple tips that are sure to help you stay cozy in your apartment until spring returns.

1. Avoid the overheads

Overhead lights are great when you’re staying up late to get some extra work done or trying to find something small you dropped on the ground. What they’re not great for is setting a cozy mood. With the sun setting earlier than any other time throughout the year, you end up spending a solid portion of the winter months basking in unnatural light, regardless of how much natural light your apartment receives in the middle of a sunny day.

Make the most of these early sunsets and treat yourself to some warm and cozy mood lighting. Whether that takes the form of an ultra-modern floor lamp, a hand-me-down lava lamp from your pop’s college days or a Michael Scott-style St. Pauli Girl neon sign, all that matters is that it puts your mind at ease and amplifies your cozy vibe.

2. Light a candle…or five

candles to stay cozy in your apartment

candles to stay cozy in your apartment

For hundreds of years, fire has been the most effective way for people of all walks of life to find coziness in the toughest conditions. From our cave-dwelling ancestors sharing stories around the warm embrace of a communal fire to you and your cousins sitting at the base of the fireplace while grandpa relives the glory days aloud, fires have always been a go-to for cultivating coziness.

Given the fact that many apartments are not equipped with a fireplace, you’re going to have to get a bit creative here. Luckily for you, candles are in vogue and that means every Walmart, Target and CVS boasts an entire section of seasonally scented candles perfect for mellowing out your apartment and inviting those cozy feelings in.

Pro tip: Create your own makeshift fireplace by getting a set of five or so scentless candles. Place them together in a safe spot in your apartment, turn off the lights and stay cozy around your new “fireplace.”

3. Invest in sweats

When you’re getting down to business, you put on a suit. When your business is staying cozy in the winter, you put on a sweatsuit. As temperatures drop and the sun only shows its smiling face for a few precious hours a day, comfort takes the top priority over style. This is especially true if you’re part of the still-growing population of people spending their nine-to-five working from home. Stay home, stay suited and stay cozy.

4. Slide into a quality pair of slippers

Person with slippers staying cozy in apartment

Person with slippers staying cozy in apartment

If you’re already committed to spending a majority of your winter rocking a sweatsuit, slippers are the next logical step (pun very much intended). Less rigid than shoes, more comfortable than your coziest pair of socks, a quality pair of slippers is the final piece you need to achieve total head-to-toe comfort and maximize your overall coziness as winter rages on outside your windows.

5. Organize your closet

Now that you’ve got a cozy sweatsuit and quality slippers, it’s time to trim the fat in your closet by tossing the things you don’t wear.

Buckle up, this step to staying cozy is a three-parter.

Part 1: Remove summer clothes you didn’t wear this year

Go through your closet and set aside all of the warm-weather items you didn’t touch throughout this past spring and summer. Put those clothes in a garbage bag or cardboard box and set them aside for a few months.

Part 2: Remove winter clothes you didn’t wear last year

Go through your closet and set aside all of the cold-weather items you didn’t wear throughout the fall and haven’t touched a month or so into the winter. Add those clothes to your warm-weather collection from a few months ago.

Part 3: Donate these clothes

Donate those clothes and enjoy the cozy feeling that comes with helping those in need in your community. And, as an added bonus, you’re creating more space in your closet for the fashion trends of the future.

6. Get creative

arts and craft supplies

arts and craft supplies

The lighting is right and your sweats are plush. Now that you’re equipped with the things you need to stay cozy, it’s time to take the next step and do some activities that invoke that highly sought-after feeling of pure coziness.

One great way to leverage your creativity to create a more cozy environment is to fill your walls and shelves with your own creations. You don’t have to be a Picasso to display your own artistic creations throughout your apartment. Even if you’re not the most creative person, the whole point here is to pass the time, ignite your imagination and create a more cozy environment in your apartment through your own artistic endeavors.

Whether you’re painting something simple like a heart, learning the ancient art of origami or hopping in on a new trend like creating your own macrame wall hanging, the important thing is that you’re enjoying yourself and engaging your imagination to fend off the boredom that often accompanies cold winter days.

Pro tip: You don’t have to spend money to learn a new skill. Look at YouTube for simple tutorials designed to help you perfect your craft without asking you to spend a dime.

7. Embrace your inner iron chef

They call it comfort food for a reason: it provides comfort. Whether that dish takes the form of a hearty hot soup, an extra cheesy casserole or a downright delicious batch of fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies, comfort food is undoubtedly one of the keys to cultivating a cozy atmosphere all winter long.

For those living in smaller apartments, an added bonus to upping your kitchen productivity throughout the winter is that you get a little residual heat from your stovetop or oven circulating around the apartment.

8. Work out with your bodyweight

person doing yoga

person doing yoga

Even if you’re living in a 400-square-foot studio, you still have enough room for some bodyweight workouts. While this may seem like a counterproductive activity to staying cozy in your home, bodyweight workouts offer a few advantages that contribute to an overall cozy vibe.

Working out is one of the most reliable ways to activate your endorphins and improve your overall mood. So, if you find yourself feeling bogged down by a cold gray day, take 15 minutes or so to work through some pushups, squats and situps. You can do these three simple workouts in minimal space with no equipment required.

These workouts can act as a palette cleanser for your mood and provide you with a fresh mental start even if you’re at the beginning of a long day.

9. Find your emotional support show

All due respect to 1950’s Hollywood, but the golden age of TV is happening right now. With specialized streaming services opening doors to all types of entertainment, there has never been a better time than now to cozy up on your couch for a full day of pure binging bliss.

If you’re looking for something that will put you in a cozy mood the second it shows up on the screen, here are a couple of qualifiers you should keep in mind before you dive into a new show.

  • Find something that’s easy to follow. This kind of show will allow you to work on your creative endeavors, prep your favorite dish or knock out a quick bodyweight workout circuit without losing track of the narrative.
  • Find something with at least three seasons. You can feel the effects of winter well before and long after the official start and end dates of the season. Because of this, it’s important to pick a show with some staying power that has the ability to last you to the spring.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a Netflix fanatic, a Hulu loyalist or dedicated to Disney+, you’re sure to find something that will have you feeling cozy every time take a seat on the couch and pick up the remote.

10. Hit the books

books to stay cozy in your apartment

books to stay cozy in your apartment

There’s something primally pleasurable about cracking open a book and transporting your mind to an entirely new world. When temperatures drop, this joy rises even more. While it’s difficult to put down the remote and pick up a new book, taking some time to read is a truly effective way to keep your mind off the cold and keep the cozy vibes rolling. Don’t know what to read? Here are three book recommendations that pair perfectly with a winter day.

  • “My Year of Rest and Relaxation:” Ever wonder what it would be like to hibernate for a whole year? Author Otessa Moshfegh explores this idea in a wildly entertaining novel that is currently in development to become a movie starring Margot Robbie.
  • “Out There – The Wildest Stories from Outside Magazine:” It’s hard not to feel cozy when you’re sitting in a temperature-controlled apartment reading about some of the most harrowing adventures ever documented in the freezing wilderness. Simple as that.
  • “The Little Book of Hygge:” Defined as “the art of creating coziness,” Hygge is something that is only achieved through concentrated efforts. Written by Meik Wiking, the CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen, this book is the definitive guide to cultivating coziness from arguably the most qualified person on the planet to do so.

Not interested in the titles above? Take a trip to your local bookstore and ask around for recommendations or look around for an online book club that matches your style.

Start prepping and stay cozy all winter long

It doesn’t matter if you’re using light to set the mood, putting your kitchen to the test or escaping your surroundings through a great show or book, coziness is within reach no matter who you are, where you live and what your interests are.

Source: rent.com

Average Student Loan Debt by State in 2021

Student loan debt nationwide increased by 8.28% in 2020, the largest increase since 2013, according to the latest report from EducationData.org. That spike was most likely fueled by rising unemployment and 3.2 million new federal student loan borrowers.

Student loan debt is now the second highest consumer debt category in the country behind only housing debt . Nationwide, nearly 40% of college attendees report some type of educational debt, and 65% graduate with student debt, the report showed.

A recent report from EducationData.org details the average student loan debt per borrower (based on all student loan debt, not just that owed by undergraduate borrowers) in each state. Overall, residents of Washington, D.C., have the nation’s highest federal student loan debt at more than $55,000 per borrower when looking at the total student loan debt owed by individuals in the state. Of every state, North Dakota has the lowest average federal student loan debt, with residents there owing an average of just $29,446.

Student Loan Debt in Each State

Read on for an overview of what student loan debt looks like across the country according to EducationData.org . This data is reflective of all borrowers, not just undergraduate students.

Alabama

Average borrower debt: $37,348
Total student loan debt: $23.1 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Alabama

Alaska

Average borrower debt: $34,431
Total student loan debt: $2.3 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Alaska

Arizona

Average borrower debt: $35,454
Total student loan debt: $30.7 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Arizona

Arkansas

Average borrower debt: $33,525
Total student loan debt: $12.8 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Arkansas

California

Average borrower debt: $36,937
Total student loan debt: $142.7 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in California

Colorado

Average borrower debt: $37,120
Total student loan debt: $28.2 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Colorado

Connecticut

Average borrower debt: $35,448
Total student loan debt: $17.1 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Connecticut

Delaware

Average borrower debt: $37,338
Total student loan debt: $4.6 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Delaware

District of Columbia

Average borrower debt: $55,077
Total student loan debt: $6.4 Billion

Florida

Average borrower debt: $38,481
Total student loan debt: $98.2 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Florida

Georgia

Average borrower debt: $41,843
Total student loan debt: $67.2 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Georgia

Hawaii

Average borrower debt: $36,575
Total student loan debt: $4.4 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Hawaii

Idaho

Average borrower debt: $33,100
Total student loan debt: $7.1 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Idaho

Illinois

Average borrower debt: $38,071
Total student loan debt: $61.1 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Illinois

Indiana

Average borrower debt: $33,106
Total student loan debt: $29.6 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Indiana

Iowa

Average borrower debt: $30,848
Total student loan debt: $13.2 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Iowa

Kansas

Average borrower debt: $33,130
Total student loan debt: $12.5 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Kansas

Kentucky

Average borrower debt: $33,023
Total student loan debt: $19.5 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Kentucky

Louisiana

Average borrower debt: $34,683
Total student loan debt: $22.1 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Louisiana

Maine

Average borrower debt: $33,352
Total student loan debt: $6.1 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Maine

Maryland

Average borrower debt: $43,219
Total student loan debt: $35.5 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Maryland

Massachusetts

Average borrower debt: $34,549
Total student loan debt: $30.4 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Massachusetts

Michigan

Average borrower debt: $36,295
Total student loan debt: $50.7 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Michigan

Minnesota

Average borrower debt: $33,822
Total student loan debt: $26.3 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Minnesota

Mississippi

Average borrower debt: $37,080
Total student loan debt: $16.0 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Mississippi

Missouri

Average borrower debt: $35,706
Total student loan debt: $29.3 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Missouri

Montana

Average borrower debt: $33,953
Total student loan debt: $4.2 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Montana

Nebraska

Average borrower debt: $32,138
Total student loan debt: $7.8 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Nebraska

Nevada

Average borrower debt: $33,863
Total student loan debt: $26.3 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Nevada

New Hampshire

Average borrower debt: $34,353
Total student loan debt: $6.4 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in New Hampshire

New Jersey

Average borrower debt: $35,730
Total student loan debt: $41.7 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in New Jersey

New Mexico

Average borrower debt: $34,237
Total student loan debt: $7.7 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in New Mexico

New York

Average borrower debt: $38,107
Total student loan debt: $91.9 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in New York

North Carolina

Average borrower debt: $37,861
Total student loan debt: $48.0 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in North Carolina

North Dakota

Average borrower debt: $29,446
Total student loan debt: $2.5 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in North Dakota

Ohio

Average borrower debt: $34,923
Total student loan debt: $61.8 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Ohio

Oklahoma

Average borrower debt: $31,832
Total student loan debt: $15.2 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Oklahoma

Oregon

Average borrower debt: $37,251
Total student loan debt: $20.0 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Oregon

Pennsylvania

Average borrower debt: $35,804
Total student loan debt: $63.9 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Pennsylvania

Rhode Island

Average borrower debt: $32,212
Total student loan debt: $4.5 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Rhode Island

South Carolina

Average borrower debt: $38,662
Total student loan debt: $27.5 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in South Carolina

South Dakota

Average borrower debt: $31,858
Total student loan debt: $3.6 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in South Dakota

Tennessee

Average borrower debt: $36,549
Total student loan debt: $30.8 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Tennessee

Texas

Average borrower debt: $33,123
Total student loan debt: $116.8 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Texas

Utah

Average borrower debt: $32,781
Total student loan debt: $9.9 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Utah

Vermont

Average borrower debt: $38,411
Total student loan debt: $2.9 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Vermont

Virginia

Average borrower debt: $39,472
Total student loan debt: $41.9 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Virginia

Washington

Average borrower debt: $35,521
Total student loan debt: $27.6 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Washington

West Virginia

Average borrower debt: $32,258
Total student loan debt: $7.2 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in West Virginia

Wisconsin

Average borrower debt: $32,272
Total student loan debt: $23.1 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Wisconsin

Wyoming

Average borrower debt: $30,246
Total student loan debt: $1.6 Billion
Everything you need to know about student loans & scholarships in Wyoming

The Takeaway

The average amount of debt held by borrowers varies from state to state. The five states with the highest average amount of student loan debt per borrower are; Washington D.C., Maryland, Georgia, Virginia, and South Carolina. The five states with the lowest average of student loans per borrower are; South Dakota, Oklahoma, Iowa, Wyoming, and North Dakota. North Dakota is the only state where the average borrower owes less than $30,000.

For millions, student loans are a necessary part of paying for college. When federal aid and savings aren’t enough to pay for school, some borrowers turn to private student loans. While private lenders are not required to offer the same benefits or protections as federal student loans, they can be helpful for borrowers who have exhausted all other options and are looking to fill in gaps in funding. Student loans with SoFi have no hidden fees and borrowers are able to choose from four repayment plans.

Find out more about private student loans available from SoFi.

Photo credit: iStock/FangXiaNuo


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SoFi Private Student Loans
Please borrow responsibly. SoFi Private Student Loans are not a substitute for federal loans, grants, and work-study programs. You should exhaust all your federal student aid options before you consider any private loans, including ours. Read our FAQs.
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External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.
Third Party Brand Mentions: No brands or products mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.
Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
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Source: sofi.com

5 Home Services You Should Not Pay For

Man holding up his hand to stop a home purchase
Asier Romero / Shutterstock.com

Homeownership certainly comes with a lot of unavoidable if sometimes unexpected expenses, from property taxes to insurance and repairs.

But there are many home-related costs we don’t necessarily need to pay for — and other things we’re not sure are worth it.

Following are some costs you might be on the fence about, and why we think you should avoid them.

1. Air duct cleaning

duct cleaning
Rob Crandall / Shutterstock.com

Some companies advertise duct cleaning services to supposedly improve your home’s air quality.

Does it work? The Environmental Protection Agency is unconvinced.

It says, “Duct cleaning has never been shown to actually prevent health problems,” and suggests only having ducts cleaned in a few specific situations, such as if mold is visible inside your heating and cooling system or if there are vermin.

2. Custom framing

Selection of custom picture frames
Eric Glenn / Shutterstock.com

Simply hanging artwork in your home shouldn’t be an expensive proposition, but it can be if you rely on custom framing jobs. In some cases, a frame can cost more than what it protects.

The reason custom framing gets so expensive, Vox explains, is the number of options available — a dizzying array of hundreds of frames and mats of all sizes, plus options for moldings and glazings.

For standard-sized images, a ready-made frame may suffice at a fraction of the cost. You can buy them new at a home goods store, or if you want a more “distressed” look and even greater savings, bring a tape measure to your local thrift store and size up some gently-used frames. So-called “floater frames” can provide style and flexibility for displaying art of unusual dimensions.

And then there are a growing number of specialty companies online, happy to provide custom-size frames at a lower cost than local frame shops. The New York Times’ Wirecutter recommends Framebridge, which has a flat fee, high-quality builds and the simplest ordering process among the tested companies.

3. Extended product warranties

Excited salesman
Billion Photos / Shutterstock.com

It’s natural to want to get your money’s worth out of every purchase, and therefore to consider extending a warranty. But many experts suggest they’re usually just not worth it, including Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson.

This is doubly true if you use a credit card that automatically extends warranties or have another way to get a warranty. For instance, if you’re a Costco member, you can get a free two-year warranty on items such as TVs, computers and major appliances that you purchase there.

4. Self-storage rentals

storage units
sunlover / Shutterstock.com

Buying more stuff than you need is expensive enough. But what’s even worse is when you run out of space for all that stuff in your home and start paying somebody else to hold on to it for you.

Consider self-storage a temporary solution, for situations like moving a household. Otherwise, you’re paying potentially thousands to hide many things you’re probably going to forget about because they’re not important enough to keep handy or remember in your day-to-day life. All that money wasted because you can’t bear the thought of decluttering.

If you really must maintain a unit, check out “10 Ways to Cut the Cost of Self-Storage.”

5. Junk hauling

Upset woman in a cluttered garage
northallertonman / Shutterstock.com

So you’ve decided to declutter: Great! But don’t pay someone to get rid of your stuff.

Instead, turn to free ways to rid yourself of things you no longer need.

Search for local charities that are willing to pick up your donations. Post listings on websites such as Facebook, Freecycle or the Buy Nothing Project.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

Source: moneytalksnews.com

Dow Jones vs. Nasdaq vs. S&P 500 – What Are the Differences?

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Dig Deeper

Additional Resources

Wondering how “the market” did today?

When American investors refer to “the market” or “the stock market,” they’re usually referring to one of the three major U.S. stock exchanges: the Dow Jones, the Nasdaq, and the S&P 500. Or all three. 

But these indexes represent different stocks and market segments, so you should understand the differences before investing in stocks. 

The Dow Jones Industrial Average

The oldest U.S. stock exchange, the Dow Jones Industrial Average — or the DJIA, Dow, or Dow Jones for short — began in 1896 as a way to track the 12 largest industrial companies of the era. 

Today the Dow includes 30 blue-chip companies ranging from Microsoft to Coca Cola to Disney, and the index features all industries except for utilities and transportation. These market sectors have their own separate Dow Jones indexes. 

The DJIA doesn’t swap in or out companies often, and the criteria remains vague. Aside from being some of the largest companies in the country, the companies are expected to be leaders in their industry. A committee meets periodically to vote on keeping or replacing members of the index. 

Stocks in the Dow Jones are weighted by price, so stocks with higher prices make up a greater percentage of the total index. If a $100 stock rises by $10, and a $5 stock also rises by $10, both changes are weighted equally, even though that jump in price represents a much larger leap in value for the $5 stock. 

The Dow offers some insight into how the nation’s largest companies are performing. But with only 30 companies, it hardly represents the U.S. stock market as a whole. The price weighting also distorts the index’s performance, as a company’s share price tells you less than its market capitalization (market cap). 

Take the index’s movements with a grain of salt, and consider it more of an ultra-high cap bellwether rather than a definitive statement about U.S. stock trends.


The S&P 500

The S&P 500 index includes 500 U.S. companies rather than only 30, making it a broader indicator of U.S. large cap stocks. These companies include Alphabet (Google), 3M, Allstate, Amazon, and Microsoft. Note that companies can appear in multiple stock indexes, as Microsoft does. 

The number of companies included in the S&P has changed over time. Going back to 1927, the S&P has returned around 10% per year on average. That includes an era when the index only included 90 companies, before expanding to 500 in 1957. 

Like the Dow, the stocks making up the S&P 500 are determined by a committee. As of 2021, companies must have a market cap of at least $13.1 billion, have positive earnings for at least the last four quarters, maintain adequate liquidity based on price and trading volume, and at least 50% of shares must be owned by the public (known as public float).

Unlike the Dow, the S&P 500 is weighted by market cap rather than price. Market capitalization includes the total value of all a company’s shares: the share price multiplied by the number of outstanding shares. 

Imagine a company with shares priced at $1,000, but which only has 100 shares in circulation, for a total market cap of $100,000. In contrast, another company has 1 million shares in circulation, but each share is worth only $10, for a total market cap of $10 million. Which company has a higher market value? The one with a market cap of $10 million of course, which is why the S&P 500 weights by market cap rather than stock price.  

The S&P 500 offers a broader picture of how U.S. stocks are trending. Even so, the index represents the largest U.S. companies, and tells you nothing of how smaller companies have performed.


The Nasdaq Composite

First and foremost, understand that the Nasdaq is a stock exchange, and was in fact the first completely electronic stock exchange. The Nasdaq Composite is the stock index, which includes over 3,000 of the companies traded on the Nasdaq. The index includes all companies with common stock trading on the Nasdaq, but excludes preferred stock, exchange-traded funds (ETFs), and other types of securities. 

While investors tend to think of the Nasdaq as an exchange for technology stocks, stocks from all market sectors trade on the Nasdaq. Even so, the Nasdaq Composite index does disproportionately feature tech stocks. 

Example companies listed on the Nasdaq include Apple, Microsoft, Netflix, Tesla, and Intel. Many investors and pundits use the Nasdaq Composite as a barometer for the technology sector as a whole, even though it includes many non-tech companies (such as PepsiCo). 

Like the S&P 500, the Nasdaq Composite is weighted by market capitalization. 

Don’t confuse the Nasdaq Composite — which includes nearly every stock that trades on the Nasdaq — with the Nasdaq 100. The latter includes just 100 of the largest non-financial stocks that trade on the Nasdaq, such as Starbucks, Adobe, and Amazon. 


Which Index Should You Follow?

As a broad measure of the U.S. stock market, the S&P 500 serves as the most representative index. It includes companies in every industry, and is weighted by market cap. Even so, it includes only large-cap companies. 

For a more tech-oriented weathervane, follow the Nasdaq Composite’s movements. If you want a glimpse into small-cap stocks, check the Russell 2000. 

The Dow Jones may get the most attention from reporters, but it actually represents the U.S. market least well of the three major indexes. The sample size is too small, and being price-weighted further distorts its value.


Final Word

The three major stock indexes above only represent U.S. stocks, not international companies. 

For more global exposure, you can explore foreign stock market indexes such as the S&P Europe 350 Index or the Dow Jones Asian Titans 50 Index. 

Better yet, save yourself the stress and don’t bother following the stock market’s movements at all. Instead, automate your stock investments with a robo-advisor, and simply dollar-cost average your investments in index funds. Avoid emotional investing by ignoring the daily volatility of the market. 

While day traders need to stay glued to their stock tickers, you don’t. The stock market rises and falls, and over the long term it averages a strong upward trend. I sleep easily at night knowing that when it goes up, I enjoy a higher net worth. When it goes down, I get to buy stocks at a discount. No matter what happens, I win — because I participate in the market on autopilot, without letting emotions affect my investment decisions.

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Source: moneycrashers.com

When Actively Managed Funds Are Worth It

It’s hard to beat the market and the index funds that track them.

The numbers don’t lie: Only one-fourth of all actively managed funds in the U.S. topped the average of their index fund counterparts over the 10-year period that ended in June, according to the latest Active/Passive Barometer report by Morningstar.

But in certain pockets of the market, active managers do a better job of beating their benchmarks. Studies show that active funds that invest in small and midsize companies, foreign shares and intermediate-term bonds, for instance, have had more success beating their benchmarks than funds in other market segments, according to Morningstar.

“Areas of the market that are less picked over are more target rich for active fund managers,” says Ben Johnson, director of global ETF research at Morningstar. Why’s that? “There’s less opportunity if you’re coming up with the 12 millionth investment thesis for Apple.”

Indeed, it can be difficult for active managers to stand out in highly trafficked market corners, such as large-company stocks. Most of these firms are as closely followed as your favorite sports team or Netflix TV series. More than 50 analysts track Amazon.com’s (AMZN) every move, for example. That goes some way to explain why only 17% of all U.S. large-company funds outpaced the S&P 500 over the 10-year period ending in June, according to data from S&P Dow Jones Indices.

Herewith, a guide to where it pays to go active and some funds to consider.

The best portfolios will use index funds for heavily trampled parts of the market and put active funds to work for those asset classes in which an active manager has a better shot of beating the index. “A blend of the two is a good way to go,” says Steve Azoury, a chartered financial consultant and founder of Azoury Financial. (Unless otherwise noted, returns and data are through Nov. 5.)

Find Stocks That are Flying Under the Radar

In general, the smaller the company, the less likely it is to be followed by the Wall Street research machine.

“It’s almost like deep-sea diving,” says Morningstar’s Johnson. The smaller the company’s market value, “the murkier it gets and the fewer predators there are.”

That’s a good environment for active fund managers. It boosts a manager’s odds of identifying a good opportunity ahead of rivals, says Craigh Cepukenas, a comanager for Artisan Small Cap (ARTSX, expense ratio 1.21%) and Artisan Mid Cap (ARTMX, 1.18%) funds. The strategy at both funds is to discover disruptive companies that are driving change, then hold them even after they’ve become larger companies. “We let our winners run,” says Cepukenas.

The Artisan funds also favor under-the-radar companies. Only six Wall Street analysts cover Valmont Industries (VMI), for example. The maker of metal products, such as poles used for traffic lights, is a top-20 holding in Artisan Small Cap. Some of the fund’s other low-profile holdings, such as digital health company OptimizeRx (OPRX) and Advanced Drainage Systems (WMS), a water management company, have even fewer analysts following them.

Active funds are all about exploiting what Wall Street dubs market “inefficiencies,” which occur when securities’ market prices vary from their true fair value, says Brian Price, head of investment management for Commonwealth Financial Network.

That’s what makes active midsize stock funds appealing: Midsize companies often fall through the cracks. They “lack the excitement of small companies and the name recognition of large names,” says Artisan’s Cepukenas.

In particular, actively managed funds that focus on fast-growing midsize U.S. companies tend to shine brightest against their index fund rivals. Alger Mid Cap Growth (AMGAX, 1.30%) ranks among those index beaters. It has topped its benchmark, the Russell Mid Cap Growth index, and its category peers over the past one-, three-, five- and 10-year periods. The fund typically charges a 5.25% load, but you can buy shares for no fee at Fidelity and Charles Schwab.

Look Overseas to International Stocks

International stock pickers have an edge over their benchmarks in part because they have “boots on the ground” in the countries where they invest, says Dan Genter, CEO and chief investment officer of RNC Genter Capital Management. That allows them to better understand what drives local economies and ferret out companies with growth potential before the competition does.

The managers at Wasatch Emerging Markets Select (WAESX, 1.51%) and Wasatch Emerging Markets Small Cap (WAEMX, 1.95%), for instance, aren’t afraid to look beyond their foreign-stock benchmarks to find undiscovered opportunities. 

When the managers travel abroad, local brokers who help them set up company meetings often say, “Nobody ever visits this company. Why do you care?” says Ajay Krishnan, a comanager for both funds. But that’s precisely the draw. Both Wasatch funds have outpaced their benchmarks over the past one, three and five years.

Among foreign-stock funds, those that favor bargain-priced shares have tended to fare best against their index fund counterparts, according to Morningstar.

Some foreign large value funds to consider include Causeway International Value (CIVVX, 1.10%), a fund that zeroes in on good companies going through a rough patch. Oakmark International (OAKIX, 1.04%) is a Morningstar gold-rated fund that seeks stocks trading 30% below their business value using what Morningstar analyst Andrew Daniels calls “old-fashioned detective work.”

Being Choosy With Bonds

Active bond fund managers can be nimbler than their index fund counterparts – weeding out or avoiding low-quality issues that might make up sizable parts of many bond indexes or giving more weight to more-opportunistic segments of the market.

The Bloomberg U.S. Aggregate Bond index, for example, currently has a large weighting (45.1%) in U.S. Treasuries but smaller helpings of higher-yielding bonds, such as mortgage-backed securities and corporate-issued debt. In recent years, any intermediate-term bond fund managers willing to tilt their portfolio toward higher-yielding bond sectors, such as corporate debt rated triple-B or lower, or asset-backed securities with higher yields, could improve their chances of outpacing the Agg, says Commonwealth Financial Network’s Price.

That’s partly why Fidelity Total Bond ETF (FBND, 0.36%) has topped the Agg index over the past one, three and five years. The fund currently holds more than 10% of its assets in high-yield debt (credit rated double-B to triple-C), which helped boost returns; by contrast, the Agg doesn’t hold any high-yield debt.

Baird Aggregate Bond (BAGSX, 0.55%) stays in investment-grade territory (debt rated triple-A to triple-B) but lately has gained an edge by loading up on more corporate debt than the Agg, particularly in financials. The fund beat the index over the past one, three and five years.

Source: kiplinger.com